Sisu Review – The Genre Mash Up, Nazi Killing Action Spectacle That Will Have Audiences Howling

SISU is a Finnish word that can’t be translated. It means a white-knuckled form of courage and unimaginable determination.

Sisu manifests itself when all hope is lost.

Finnish director Jalmari Helander begins his ultra-violent genre mash up film with the above. It promises something quite serious but doesn’t really capture how bonkers Sisu is. Imagine, if you can, John Wick meets a Spaghetti Western meets a survival thriller, meets a “kill Nazis” WWII actioner and you’re getting somewhere close.

The setting is 1944 and Lapland has signed an accord with Russia. They are to drive out all remaining Nazis. The Nazis, knowing defeat is imminent, are going for the scorched earth approach. One man, Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila) is done with war. A legendary fighter nicknamed ‘The Immortal’ has lost everything to the Russians and just wants to be left alone to prospect on his property. He finds gold. Nazis find him and realise he has gold and hunt him. Unbridled and bloody chaos ensues.

Sisu deals with some extremely serious issues – nobody will argue that the Nazis deserve any quarter, but it does it in such a winking manner that some of the implied horrors (women being kept for rape) are sidelined for the relentless action. Aatami really is a one-man killing machine and for every Nazi he offs with brutal relish there is a sense of catharsis for the audience but it’s increasingly absurd. Aatami has fewer lines than John Wick ever did, his stony-faced determination is brilliantly played – “He’s one mean motherfucker you don’t want to mess with” the main Nazi, Bruno (Askel Hennie) is told. Bruno doesn’t care. He wants the gold and will sacrifice anyone to get it, including his own men.

Jalmari Helander plays into the B-movie aesthetic with relish and it works. He titles the film with chapters such as “Kill ‘em All” and that’s exactly what Aatami does in viscerally inventive ways. Helander enjoys the splatter element in the filmmaking and goes in close for queasy action scenes that will have gore hounds howling with delight. If there is a lack of characterisation it’s because the film knows that the audience already is aware of all the tropes. We know by now that messing with a man who has lost his family and has a legendary nick name is a bad idea (he also owns a dog, and yes, the Nazis try to kill it), so we sit back for the blood bath, something Sisu delivers in buckets.

Sisu sets out to entertain, not inform, and sometimes that doesn’t track as well as it should. The Nazis are of course irredeemable, and the horror of what happened in Finland is noted, but the movie is less concerned with WWII than it is with spectacle. It is tongue-in-cheek to the nth degree. However, if you want to watch a man survive being set on fire, hanged, drowned, and still kill Nazis in violent and inventive ways that are all to elicit cheers and giggles, then Sisu should move to the top of the list for the most over-the-top semi-exploitation movie of the year.

Director: Jalmari Helander

Cast: Jorma Tommila, Aksel Hennie, Jack Doolan

Writer: Jalmari Helander

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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